Vermont-based eVTOL developer Beta Technologies on Wednesday completed the longest crewed test flight of its Alia aircraft yet, clocking in at 205 miles (330 kilometers), according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.
The all-electric Alia was operating in airplane mode on only three of its five available battery packs, according to a source familiar with the testing. This positions Beta well for achieving its target range of 250 nautical miles (around 460 km) for flights involving vertical take-offs and landings, which are the most energy-intensive phases of flight.
While Beta has yet to conduct extensive free flight testing of Alia in VTOL mode, the company has been conducting numerous flights in the aircraft’s conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) configuration. Since March of this year, that has included flight testing out of Beta’s headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permitted the aircraft to fly beyond its primary test facility in Plattsburgh, New York. Although Alia’s first multi-airport flight was only 18 miles (29 km), the FAA’s approval to fly from Plattsburgh to Burlington represented a significant vote of confidence in the experimental aircraft.
According to FlightAware, the maximum speed reached during Wednesday’s 2-hour, 2-minute flight out of the Burlington Airport was 122 mph (196 km/h). Beta is ultimately targeting a cruising speed of 170 mph (270 km/h) for Alia. The maximum altitude reached during this flight was just over 3,000 feet, although the aircraft has previously flown as high as 8,000 feet.
Although it took place in airplane mode, the 205-mile flight was much longer than any flights publicly revealed by Beta’s competitors in the eVTOL space. By way of comparison, Kitty Hawk claims to have flown its single-seat Heaviside eVTOL over 100 miles on a single charge, including a vertical take-off and landing.
Beta’s achievements are particularly crucial for the company as it expects to start delivery of its aircraft to multiple partners in 2024. UPS, which has ordered 10 aircraft with options for up to 150, will use the aircraft for time-sensitive deliveries that would otherwise be flown by small conventional aircraft. Blade Urban Air Mobility has also ordered up to 20 aircraft from Beta, representing the first passenger service order for the six-seat vehicle.
With these deliveries on the horizon and testing scheduled to continue at a rapid pace, Wednesday’s flight bodes well for the company’s certification and production efforts. However, the next phase of testing, which will include transitions between vertical and forward flight, may prove to be challenging. Therefore, only time will tell what this all means for the company, as well as its competitors.
This story has been updated to correct Alia’s target maximum range to 250 nautical miles.